This Fall, Bear in Mind...

Kathleen Magner

As autumn settles in with cooler temperatures and shortened days, our thoughts turn to preparing for the upcoming winter season with such tasks as retrieving packed-away sweaters and mittens and harvesting the last of our garden’s bounty. Our resident wildlife, including Connecticut’s black bears, are also busy with their own preparations. 

 

Fall is the time when bears are also very active, as they forage more to gain the additional weight that it takes to survive the winter. Black bears experience a mild hibernation (though not to the extent of true hibernators such as woodchucks). The bears’ body temperature and respiration decreases, however, if necessary, they can become active quickly. Among the places bears choose for winter dens are hollow tree trunks, rocky crevasses lined with grasses, thick vegetation, and other sheltered spots. These safe and protected spaces are needed for pregnant females to give birth, typically to two or three cubs in mid-winter, and then nurse them in the den until spring. However, if the winter is a mild one, the bears may emerge and look for food sources.

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Photo: Black Bear

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

To ensure a peaceful coexistence with our resident black bears and to avoid having them become habituated to humans, it is especially important this time of year to practice bear-aware habits. Taking simple precautions can reduce and prevent issues. According to the CT DEEP, the most common attractants continue to be human food waste, garbage, and bird food (even an empty feeder can attract bears, due to their amazing sense of smell). If you have chickens or backyard beehives, install electric fencing, and locate hives away from forest edges and overhanging trees. Electric “unwelcome” mats can be used near windows and doors, and noisemakers, such as a can filled with coins, can also be used as deterrents. 

 

Connecticut’s black bears are an integral part of maintaining the ecological systems of the state’s forests. By foraging for insects, they not only speed up the decomposition of forest wood and facilitate the return of nutrients to the soil, but also help to control insect populations. Bears disperse seeds across great distances, and our woodlands benefit from this germination. In the spring, their scavenging for food helps keep the forest floor clear of debris. As we all make preparations for the colder months ahead, following bear-safe guidelines will go a long way towards a peaceful coexistence and help to keep Connecticut’s wildlife in the wild.  

 

For More on Bears:

For additional helpful information and fascinating bear facts watch How to Co-Exist with Wildlife video by CT Votes for Animals. For additional tips on managing food, garbage and other attractants watch CT DEEP's Wildlife Division: Tips for Living with Black Bears or read for CT League of Conservation Voter’s flyer: Black Bears in Connecticut

 

To find out how you can help with wildlife issues and/or be added to our mailing list, please email our Wildlife Committee. Thank you!

Kathleen Magner is Sierra Club Connecticut’s Wildlife Committee Chair.